St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain
Full forty days, it will remain
St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair
For forty days, t’will rain no more
The words and lyrics of the English nursery rhyme reflect the ‘old wive’s tale’ that if it rains on St. Swithin’s day then it will continue to rain for a further forty days. St. Swithin’s Day falls on 15th July. St. Swithin, or Swithun was born circa 800 and died AD862. He was a Saxon Bishop of Winchester when he died he was buried outside Winchester Cathedral so that he could ‘feel’ the raindrops when he was dead. However, when he was canonised a tomb was built inside the cathedral and July 15th 971 was the day his body was to be moved. Legend has it that a storm, breaking the end of a long dry spell, on the 15th and rain on each of the subsequent 40 days led to the monks taking this as a sign of ‘divine displeasure’ and left his body where it was. The Shrine of St. Swithun, together with the tomb of Alfred the Great, in Winchester Cathedral made the Cathedral a principal place of pilgrimage in England. The shrine was destroyed in 1538 by King Henry VIII’ s men during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The sayings surrounding St. Swithin’s Day during the Middle Ages were subject to observations that summer weather patterns are usually quite well established by mid July and tended to persist until late August.
This, the most famous of all the weather related saints’ days in the UK. originally only concerned rain, but later related to 40 days of similar weather. There is very little truth behind these sayings, and since 1861 there has neither been 40 dry nor 40 wet days following a dry or wet St. Swithin’s Day. In fact on average about 20 days with some rain and 20 rain free days can be expected between July 15th and August 24th, and of course it goes without saying that the weather on July 15th is independant of conditions for the following 40 days.
Our European neighbours have similar sayings based around the idea of 40 days of similar weather (ie wet or dry). The French have St. Medard’s Day on the June 8th . The Germans have the Day of Seven Sleepers on June 27th whilst the Belgians have St. Godelieve on July 27th.